CRISPR Pioneer Stanley Qi’s Epic Bio Launches with $55 Million

Epic Bio, which aims to develop “ultracompact” therapies to modulate gene expression in vivo, today announced its launch and $55 million Series A financing. The biotech was founded by Stanley Qi, Ph.D., a co-inventor on the CRISPR patent held by the University of California. Epic will “revolutionize genetic medicine with epigenetic engineering,” creating “a new class of genetic medicines that act on the epigenome,” according to a press release.

Epic’s chief executive officer, Amber Salzman, Ph.D., said, “Our vision at Epic Bio is nothing short of transformative: To create a new class of genetic medicines that can treat diseases for which there’s no effective treatment today. We have a unique platform that enables in vivo delivery of our compact gene modulation components using AAV vectors that have already been de-risked in the clinic.”

The company launches with an exclusive license from Stanford University to the ultracompact DNA-binding protein CasMINI for human use. CasMINI is the smallest Cas protein created to date, and was developed in Qi’s lab. It is less than half the size of Cas9 and Cas12a and is engineered to function robustly in mammalian cells. The small size of CasMINI enables delivery of Epic’s therapeutic candidates in vivo via a single AAV vector to a wide range of target organs.

Epic has also developed the GEMS (Gene Expression Modulation System) platform to precisely modify gene expression. GEMS includes the largest known library of novel modulators combined with advanced functional and computational genomics capabilities to rapidly design guide RNAs that are highly specific to the targeted genes.

Salzman added that, “Our lead program in FSHD [Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy] has a clear line of sight to clinical entry next year, and other programs are close behind. We are excited to realize the sweeping impact epigenetic engineering could have on the standard of care for many serious diseases.”

“The platform that Epic Bio has built is unparalleled in the field of epigenetic engineering. With the largest existing library of differentiated modulators and a proprietary guide design system, Epic’s technology enables fine-tuning of gene expression to a degree never before possible,” said Patrick Zhang, investor at Horizons Ventures. “This promise is already visible in the company’s robust pipeline. We are eager to explore and develop the potentiality of epigenetic engineering to benefit patients in need.”

The Series A will support Epic’s preclinical programs in five initial indications insufficiently addressed by current genetic medicines—FSHD, Heterozygous Familial Hypercholesterolemia (HeFH), Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (A1AD), Retinitis Pigmentosa 4 (RP4), and Retinitis Pigmentosa 11 (RP11)—as well as the ongoing development of the company’s platform and discovery efforts.

Epic is also engaging with academic and industry partners to increase access to epigenetic engineering through use of the GEMS platform. Qi’s work in epigenetic engineering includes the invention of CRISPRa (activation) and CRISPRi (interference). He is a co-inventor on the University of California’s Nobel Prize-winning CRISPR patent and an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Chemical and Systems Biology at Stanford University.

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